College instructors often require that students include only scholarly articles in the bibliographies of their research papers. But how can a student tell the difference between a scholarly publication and a popular one that's written for a general audience?
The criteria below will help you recognize a scholarly or research article. Not every one of these criteria will be found in every article, but when you can answer yes to many of the following questions, you can be quite confident that you've found the kind of literature your instructor wants you to use.
Looking at the Citation
These criteria are most important when you are looking at a citation for an article in an index, a database, or a bibliography:
Does the periodical title depict a very specific subject area?
Does the article have a complex and lengthy title?
Are the authors' names listed along with their degrees, titles, or other credentials and/or the names of the institutions with which they are affiliated (particularly colleges or universities)?
Was the article cited in a subject-specific index or database (e.g., Education Index, Medline, Sociological Abstracts)?
Does the periodical title contain the words Journal, Studies, Research, or Review?
Is the article long -- more than 5 pages?
Popular articles (magazines)
Examples of popular magazines: Time, Discover, Astronomy, BusinessWeek
Scholarly articles (journals)
Examples of scholarly journals: Journal of the American Medical Association, American Journal of Political Science, New England Journal of Medicine
There are also a few characteristics that almost always indicate that the article or periodical you have is NOT scholarly, but is a general-interest publication. Answering yes to many of the following questions should raise a red flag in your evaluation.
Are authors' names missing?
Are there very few, very brief, or no bibliographies?
Are there lots of full-color ads for popular commercial products?
Is the language very easy to understand?
Is the periodical published frequently:daily or weekly?
Does the periodical contain lots of graphics, photos, &color?
Would the article appeal to a broad range of people?
Can the periodical be purchased at newsstands or stores?
Some points to remember:
Do you want background on a topic new to you? (use magazines)
Did your instructor say to cite scholarly resources? (use journals)